The Nine to Five

For a long time I really didn’t understand why so many people had such a hard time eating healthy food.  I got up every morning, ate a bowl of oatmeal or leftover soup for breakfast, and later cooked a big batch of something for lunch and packed a portion up for dinner at work.  Once or twice a week on my night off, I’d make a nice dinner for my manfriend, complete with dessert (usually something decadent from Chocolate Covered Katie).  I mean, yeah, I snacked on popcorn or crackers after work most nights, and would have a beer or some chocolate if my shift was stressful, but all it took was a little time and planning to make mostly healthy choices.  I secretly thought that the rest of America was just lazy.  Sorry guys.

This was my routine for years, from the time I was a Brooklyn nanny working after school, to when I moved to Pittsburgh and took an evening shift call center job. I usually worked part-time and although I didn’t have many evenings free to be social, I did have a lot of time to cook and experiment in the kitchen. Fast forward to this February, when I accepted a new position at my job that requires me to work mostly during the day.  I have some flexibility, but it’s a basic Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm job.

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This is Annabelle. I wish she liked cooking from this book as much as she likes eating the cover.

My routine is entirely different now and I don’t have it all figured out yet.  I get up every morning and make coffee and a big green smoothie.  I was beefing it up with a great protein powder from Arbonne for a while, but that’s not currently an option for various reasons, so now I’m adding oatmeal and a handful of almonds to give it staying power.  Lunch at work is usually leftovers or some basic grain/bean/veg combo, the usual stuff I make, although I do occasionally succumb to ordering in.  And dinner is where I struggle.  No matter what I eat for lunch or if I take an afternoon snack, I seem to always come home half-starved and ravenous.  So I snack.  Popcorn, cereal, leftovers, junk food…and by the time dinner time rolls around, I’m too full to cook (a reverse from when I got home and was too hungry to cook).  So I skip dinner and around 8 or so I realize I don’t have anything to take for tomorrow’s lunch and hastily throw a meal together.  It’s usually curried lentils or split pea soup, both of which I’m horrifically bored with, by the way.

I get it now!  This is why people don’t cook all the time.  You’re too tired and you forget to soak the beans before leaving for work and you end up making ramen and scrambled eggs for dinner or ordering sushi delivery, and then don’t pack a lunch and order Chipotle at work then next day.  I get it, I was totally spoiled.  So that brings me to this question:  What do we do about it?

Seriously, what are your strategies for cooking healthy meals on a busy schedule?  Share your wisdom with me, internet friends!

Here’s another picture of my bunny to reward you for your tips:

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Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Pancakes were always a big deal in my family. Every weekend, my dad would cook up heaps of homemade pancakes from his own recipe stored deep in his brain. My dad is an early riser, whereas my mom has always worked the evening shift at the hospital, so on Saturday mornings she slept in while Daddy took care of breakfast. Some of my best memories are of sitting around the kitchen table with my siblings, fighting over who got the next pancake.

Pancake!

Pancake!

Eventually though, all good things must come to an end. My dad took a new job driving a truck cross-country and wasn’t home on the weekends anymore. One of the first Saturdays without him, my little brother, who must have been about eight at the time, decided that cold cereal wasn’t gonna cut it. So we pulled our mom’s Fanny Farmer Cookbook off the shelf and looked up a recipe for pancakes. He did most of the work, although I guess I supervised the use of the stove and stuff. My most important job though, was to eat the pancakes however they turned out. Flipping pancakes is not necessarily easy if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s even harder when you are a little kid who has trouble reaching the back of the stove. Some of them were bad. Really bad. Burnt and raw all at once, somehow both over-mixed and with baking powder lumps, but I ate them!

We worked on pancake making for months, trying different recipes, convincing our dad to write his down as best he could, and after much experimentation (and many awful pancakes for me to eat) my brother came up with his own perfect formula. I went off to college with his recipe in hand and made pancakes for my friends more times than I can remember. As the years have gone by, I’ve done my own experimentation, adding different ingredients, making them healthier, veganizing, improving, playing, and always eating the (occasionally awful) results.

Today’s experiment went well, so try these fluffy and flavorful, healthy and hearty pumpkin pancakes, perfect for fall.  This recipe makes a ton of pancakes, by the way.  If you are just one or two people and don’t want to eat leftovers all week, halve it. If you are feeding four growing children, get two pans going so that they cook faster and minimize arguing.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup quick oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon*
1/2 tsp salt

3 cups milk of choice**
2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin puree***

1. Stir vinegar and vanilla into the milk, either in a bowl or right in the measuring cup.  Then add the oats and let them soak in the milk mixture for about ten minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.  This is a great time to make coffee!

2. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients.

3. Add the oat-milk mixture and the pumpkin to the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Let it rest for a few minutes while your pan warms up. This is a good time to pour a cup of that coffee you made in step one.

4. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat for about five minutes. I like non-stick, but sometimes I use cast iron lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Ladle some batter into the pan, tilt it a little to spread the batter out, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface and the edges start to dry. The flip and cook a few more minutes until brown and puffy.

Bubbles!  Almost ready to flip.

Bubbles! Almost ready to flip.

5. Eat drizzled with maple syrup or honey, maybe some toasted walnuts if you feel ambitious, and a nice hot cup of coffee.

*Feel free to add other spices like nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and clove. Today I happened to only have cinnamon
**I used almond, soy should work too.
***I used a can from Aldi – only 79 cents! Make sure it’s just pumpkin, not pie filling.

 

 

Green Paste

Today I whipped up some easy healthy soup to (I hope) make up for next week’s impending birthday cake and Christmas cookie binge. One of my coworkers likes to joke that all I eat is green paste, and I’m certainly not proving her wrong tonight. Here’s what I cobbled together in about thirty minutes today.  It isn’t pretty to look at, but it is pretty tasty.

My ugliest meal yet!

My ugliest meal yet!

Green Paste Soup

Ingredients:
1 medium bunch of kale or other greens, coarsely chopped
1 small can tomato paste
1 can butter beans, drained, or any other white bean
3 small onions, or one giant one, or two mediums, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 or more cloves garlic, peeled
whatever herbs you have hanging around
salt and pepper
2 Tbls soy sauce
1/2c whole wheat couscous

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (about half full). Add bay leaf, onions, garlic. Simmer 10 – 15 minutes.
2. Add kale, herbs, and tomato paste, simmer 10 more minutes.
3. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
4. Add beans and turn heat back up to low, adding soy sauce and other seasonings to taste. If it tastes too acidic, add a spoonful of sugar.
5. Dump in the couscous, stir well, turn off the heat and put a lid on it. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until the couscous is tender.

Enjoy!  I garnished it with some pepitas.  It was also good with nutritional yeast and a dash of hot sauce.

Tips for Being Broke Between Holidays

By now you’ve eaten your Thanksgiving leftovers and you’re plotting what to make for Christmas and New Year’s parties and if you’re me, a birthday party and a late-January Tupperware party.  And if you’re anything like me, you’re also shopping for gifts and feeling overwhelmed at the cost of everything and trying very hard not to forget to eat in the weeks between holidays.  And wondering why holiday foods must always include nuts when nuts are so expensive?  And booze is expensive, and fresh fruits are expensive, and oops I ate oatmeal for two meals today and coffee for the third, and what am I going to serve when I have guests from New York, and will they want to eat out, and how many days do I need to take off work for this, and dammit I forgot about that check and overdrew and WHY IS MY KITCHEN SO DIRTY???

You can see I am giving myself an ulcer and should probably lay off the coffee.  However, in a moment of (coffee-induced) clarity at work yesterday, I started making lists during my downtime.  I mentally inventoried what I have in my pantry, added a few cheap things from the local grocery store, and planned my meals for the week.  Here’s what I’ve got, then I’ll show you what I came up with:

Pantry:

red lentils, black beans, kidney beans, white beans

one can butter beans, three cans tomato paste

whole grain penne and couscous

wheat berries and wild rice

oatmeal

dried fruits (prunes, raisins, apricots)

pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, tahini

nutritional yeast

flour, sugar, etc

Fridge/Freezer:

leftover baked sweet potato

few slices Ezekial Bread

half bag frozen spinach

half bag frozen corn

leftover tropical fruit from Mom’s Tupperware party

extra firm tofu

couple carrots

3 pierogies

onions, garlic, ginger

That’s what I’ve got, and since I can’t currently afford a big Trader Joe’s run to replace the thousand things I’m out of (brown rice, nuts, peanut butter, frozen everything, etc), I need to make it last until I do a big pre-party shop.  So I made a little list and hit up the local grocery (the one with the non-rotten produce) for a few extras.  I got beets, 4 broccoli crowns, almond milk, 2 grapefruits, and bananas all for under $15.  I should have gotten more onions too, but I can go back for just that when I run out.  I figure I can make red lentil soup with the leftover sweet potato, cook all the beets at once to add to my smoothies with the leftover fruits, and roast some of the broccoli and use the rest in a stir-fry with the tofu and carrots, as well as having steamed spinach with garlic.  One meal a day is oatmeal (lately this is my dinner at work) with raisins and seeds.  The tomato paste can be turned into simple pasta sauce.  I can easily make a black bean and corn chili as well.  Of course, I also have plenty of baking ingredients too, in case I want to make a quick soda bread or muffins.  Plus pierogies when I need a dose of quick comfort food!

See, when life gives you lemons, you just have to zest them into some muffins and use the juice to flavor kombucha.  I was feeling very impoverished this past week, but with some careful planning I can still have delicious healthful meals.  I’ll also be able to save a little now so I can splurge later in the month.  I’m thinking hard about how to keep my birthday party low-cost.  Right now, that might mean a potluck with me making just light finger foods: hummus and crudite, stuffed mushrooms, chips and salsa.  I’m having dreams of mulled wine and cider, but we’ll see what happens.

In other news, I am having a Tupperware party in January which will be my debut as a Tupperware consultant!  I’ve been needing a second job for a while, and this seems to fit the bill.  Flexible hours, much of the sales being done online, party planning, food demos, and wholesale products.  I’ll post details about the business when I know more so that you my beloved readers can be some of my first customers!

In other news:  Please let me know what you want to see here!  I’ve been feeling uninspired for months now, which I have realized is because my kitchen is usually dirty.  That’s the disadvantage of living with lots of people.  Anyway, I’m staying away from posting about complicated celebration foods too much; there are a million other wonderful blogs for that.  I lean towards focusing on things that are easy and cheap to make during this awkward December holiday limbo.  Was there anything I mentioned above that caught your eye?  

PS  – I’m now on Twitter!  @thepennyparsnip  I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but I will!

Warm Bulgur and Chickpea Salad with Broccoli

I can’t take full credit for this concoction.  The mama I work for got me hooked on this simple dish shortly after I began taking care of her two girls almost two (!) years ago.  The kids LOVE it.  The tahini sauce is my own variation, untested on the little ladies, so if you don’t have or like tahini, just leave it out and dress the salad simply with lemon juice.  It’s good either way.

Ingredients:

1 c bulgur, cooked according to package directions (cooks the same as white rice)

1-2 c cooked chickpeas or other bean of your choice

Big bunch of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets and steamed to your liking

Handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Dressing:

1 1/2 lemons, juiced (more to taste)

1 clove garlic

1-2 Tbsp tahini

pinch of cumin, salt and pepper to taste

Minced fresh parsley for garnish

1.  In a blender or food processor, combine all dressing ingredients and blitz until smooth.

2.  Toss everything in a big bowl until well-combined.  Sprinkle with parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon if desired.

Ta-da!  Good while everything is still warm from cooking, or leftover cold the next day.  Don’t hesitate to substitute another grain or bean or vegetable if you don’t care for one of these.  The variations are endless, and because it’s so simple you really can’t screw it up.

FAQ’s: Is Eating a Plant-Based Diet More Expensive?

I’m having a bit of crazy New York City life crisis right now, so I haven’t had time to think about writing about my food (which really has just been a lot of hummus toast and  kombucha. Also coconut milk ice cream.  And so so much chocolate. Don’t judge me.)  But just because my life is stupid right now doesn’t mean that you should be deprived of great content!  Thus I direct you to one of my favorite blogs, MyPlantBasedFamily.com for some thoughts on budget-friendly eating.  Please share your thoughts with awesome writer mom Holly and definitely check out her other posts.

FAQ’s: Is Eating a Plant-Based Diet More Expensive?.

Also, if anyone else out there is on a budget and having a life event that creates the need to consume copious amounts of chocolate, allow me to recommend Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar.  It’s $5.  Get one.

Split Pea Soup

It’s March, the weather is cold (then warm!  then cold again!), and St. Patty’s Day is around the corner.  Time to eat green things!  Kale, spinach, peas, and green beer (gag!).  Split pea soup is one of my favorite comfort foods.  It’s easy to make, very inexpensive, and super nutritious.  Plus, the variations are endless.  You can give it an Indian flair by using yellow peas and curry, or add different vegetables to stretch it out.  Swap the potatoes for barley or rice!  Add a dash of balsamic vinegar when serving for a bit of zest.  Deep down, though, I really prefer the most basic of recipes, which is what I’m sharing with you today.  Enjoy.

Ingredients:

1 lb split peas (green for St Pat! but yellow ones are nice too)

1 bay leaf

2 large onions

3 stalks celery

4 medium carrots

garlic, anywhere from 2 cloves to a whole head

4 medium potatoes.

Herbs: I like 1T each of dill, sage, and thyme, with some fresh parsley added at the end, and a healthy dose of black pepper

Optional: a big blob of miso paste, or salt to taste

1.  Bring the peas and bay leaf to boil in a large pot with enough water to cover.  Simmer while you prep the other veggies (or take a shower, or make phone calls, or whatever).  They should cook 30-60 mins.  You may need to add more water at any point if the pot gets too dry or the peas start to stick.

2.  Dice the onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes.  Size is up to you; I used my food processor to slice them into neat little disks because I’m lazy.  You could also grate the carrots, or chop everything roughly and puree the soup when it’s done.  Just a matter of preference.

3.  Once the peas have softened up quite a bit, you can add the veggies and herbs. Simmer until all the vegetables and peas are soft and flavors are blended.  Add miso or salt to taste (miso will take a few minute to dissolve).  If you’re planing to puree the soup, just sure to remember to take out the bay leaf!  Actually, take the bay leaf out either way.  I once told my kiddos that if you get the bay leaf in your bowl, it’s good luck.  I made that up to cover up the fact that I always forget to remove it.  Just don’t eat it.

Bon apetit!  Next task:  Green pancakes, without artificial coloring!  Wish me luck (of the Irish, that is)!

Creamy Beans and Barley aka Accidentally Delicious

I overcooked some beans.

Yes, I know what you must be thinking, “Penny Parsnip made a mistake?  Inconceivable!”

And you’re right.  There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.  I fortunately accidentally ignored my pressure cooker full of black-eyed peas and cooked them into black-eyed mush.  Intending to figure out what to do with them sometime after baking three dozen chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes, I scarfed some down pre-party with leftover sushi rice and a little soy sauce and Slap Ya Mama.  DELICIOUS.  So creamy!  I knew I had something right here, so the next day, this dish was born.

Ingredients

1/2 lb black-eyed peas, soaked and cooked until mushy (10-15 mins in a pressure cooker, or several hours without one)

1/2 lb pearled barley

Vegetable broth or water, probably 4-8 cups (Happy accidents don’t get measured.)

2 medium onions, diced

1 large bell pepper (red or green), diced

6 or more cloves garlic, minced or crushed

1 small bunch of turnip greens, chopped (or mustard, beet, spinach, kale, chard, etc) OR use a box of frozen ones

Seasonings:  salt, pepper, cayenne, thyme, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, hot sauce.  I measured none of these.  Sorry (sort of).

1.  Combine the cooked beans and their thick broth, the barley, and veg broth/water in a great big pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 mins or so.  Use this time to chop things.

2.  Add chopped onions, garlic, and bell pepper.  Continue to simmer until barley is tender and vegetables are soft, probably another 20-30mins.  Season to taste.

3.  Continue simmering until the mixture is getting thick and creamy.  Stir in the greens, put a lid on it, and let it sit for a few minutes until they wilt.  Give it a good stir and taste to adjust seasonings, or cook a little longer if the greens are too chewy for you.

Serve with additional hot sauce, vinegar, or some nutritional yeast.  I just ate it for breakfast with some chopped avocado mixed in.  Yum yum yum.  There are no mistakes in the Penny Parsnip kitchen!

Welcome!

Over the years, I feel that I’ve nearly perfected the art of shopping on a tight budget and I’m always learning new ways to save.  Importantly, I’m always learning which things are worth shelling out for too!A long-time vegetarian, I’ve found that a lot of people out there think that if you eat plant-based, you have to buy really expensive food.  This is simply not the case.  Beans, whole grains, and vegetables are not super expensive!  Frozen meals, processed soy burgers and sausages, and canned soups are not only pricey, they’re not especially good for you to eat on a regular basis.

My goal here is to show people how easy it can be to cook tasty, nourishing food without breaking the bank.  Recipes, shopping and cooking tips to follow!